Family transitions in Latin America: First Intercourse, First Union and First Birth


family transitions, marriage, first birth, first sex, Latin America


This paper examines the initiation of sexual activity, first marriage and first birth as key steps in family formation. These events mark the transition to adulthood and generally occur in the late teens and early twenties in most Latin American countries. Using data from Demographic and Health Surveys, we examine the timing of these events across birth cohorts, comparing urban and rural areas, countries, cultural regions and educational groups. The average life course for young women in Latin America consists of the initiation of intercourse as adolescents, entering partnerships about one year later, and giving birth about a year after that. This pattern remained fairly stable over the time period examined. Education substantially delays these family transitions and the education effect is similar in most countries. Latin American women with secondary levels of schooling are significantly less likely to experience early marriage or parenthood relative to those with no schooling. Urban residence also delays entry into sexual activity, marriage and parenthood at the bivariate level. However, once education is controlled for, the effect of residence reverses – that is, urban residence is associated with early transition ages. A combination of national boundaries and cultural groupings explain more of the variation in transition rates than either grouping alone. Thus, we conclude that both national and cultural factors appear to influence family transitions in Latin America, in addition to the effects of education and urbanisation. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original Publication Citation

Heaton, Tim B., Renata Forste, and Sam Otterstrom. 2002. “Family Transitions in Latin America: First Intercourse, First Union, and First Birth.” International Population Geography, 8:1-15

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


International Journal of Population Geography




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor